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Inquiry into Rural Road Safety and Infrastructure

 

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Interpreting the Terms of Reference
State Road Classification Definitions
Conduct of the Inquiry

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Interpreting the Terms of Reference

In March 2000, the Legislative Council of the Parliament of Victoria established an Inquiry by the Parliamentary Road Safety Committee into Rural Road Safety and Infrastructure, with terms of reference to investigate:

The needs for road and bridge construction and maintenance initiatives in rural Victoria, with the aim of reporting to Parliament by 30 June 2001, on options for infrastructure projects that improve road safety and best meet community needs.

As the terms of reference were broad the Committee developed its own interpretation of the intent and scope of the Inquiry and the meaning of the various words in the terms of reference.

Definition of Roads and Bridges

Legally the word `road' refers to the road reservation between property boundaries, however this inquiry generally uses the word `road' to refer to the portion of the reservation formed to carry traffic and the term `roadside' to be the remainder of the reservation.

Unless otherwise mentioned the word `road' includes both roads and structures such as bridges.1

What is Construction and Maintenance?

Roads, and to a lesser extent, bridges, deteriorate over time due to traffic loading and climatic influences. They often become technically deficient or obsolete because of changing user requirements and vehicle characteristics, such as larger, faster and heavier vehicles. In addition they are subject to changes as a result of different use of land and economic activity. Hence, the need for a road, bridge or pedestrian overpass may expire well before it is physically unfit for use.

The physical asset management of roads and bridges does not readily fit the accounting concepts of capital and operating expenditure. Nor does the uneven deterioration in condition fit easily with the accounting concepts of standard asset lives and depreciation assumptions, for example that all bridges have the same life of, say, 80 years.

The initial formation of a road across vacant land is construction and the day-to-day care of a road and the operation of traffic signals and lighting is maintenance. The periodic re-sealing of a road with bitumen, or gravel re-sheeting of an unsealed road, is also considered as maintenance.

In Victoria a partial restoration of a road, usually on its original alignment and to the same dimensions, is generally termed `rehabilitation'. A more complete restoration, often including some element of upgrading, is considered to be `reconstruction'. For accounting purposes `rehabilitation' is sometimes considered as construction and sometimes as maintenance, whereas `reconstruction' is generally grouped with new construction expenditure. Sometimes the component of a reconstruction project, which provides improved service (e.g. the widened strip of pavement or the realigned portion of the project length), may be counted as new construction and the remainder as maintenance.

The current accounting practice at VicRoads is for all expenditure on a project that adds an additional traffic lane, including overtaking lanes, to be treated as a capital expense and added to the asset value of the arterial road network. Other less significant restoration or upgrading activity is treated as maintenance.

Care must therefore be taken in interpreting accounting-based assessments of the road network. Such assessments provide but one dimension and need to be accompanied by an assessment of physical condition and the levels of service provided to users relative to their needs and expectations.

Given the above terminology considerations the Committee chose not to consider issues or solutions under the separate headings of construction and maintenance.

What is Rural Victoria?

There are a number of ways in which rural Victoria could be defined. The first interpretation considered by the Committee was the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition which for Victoria is the area outside the Melbourne Statistical Division (MSD). This is used by many government agencies and most statistics available below state-level will refer to the metropolitan area and the rest of Victoria. Only the Shire of Yarra Ranges straddles the boundary.

A second definition of `rural' could be that used in the Regional Infrastructure Development Fund Act 1999. This includes the nine municipalities on the fringe of the growing Melbourne metropolis. These are Wyndham, Melton, Hume, Whittlesea, Nillumbik, Yarra Ranges, Cardinia, Casey and Mornington Pensinsula.

A third possibility was the area beyond the edge of the built-up Melbourne area. Urban speed limit signs and street lighting roughly define this boundary, although the Australian Bureau of Statistics has a precise boundary defined by contiguous Census Collector Districts of a defined population density. However, because it is constantly changing this boundary is generally unsuitable for most statistical purposes.

Another aspect for consideration was the major provincial cities, such as Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon, other provincial cities, smaller cities, towns, villages and hamlets. In many of these concentrations of population the municipal boundaries extended well beyond the built-up area. Were these built-up areas to be considered `rural'?

The Committee chose to focus on the area beyond the Melbourne Statistical Division boundary because statistical information was more readily available. However some of the issues covered and conclusions drawn from the Inquiry will also apply to the non-built up areas within the Melbourne Statistical Division.

In this report the terms `country' and `rural' are regarded as identical. The Committee also adopted the term `open road' to apply to country roads beyond `built-up' areas.

What are Infrastructure Projects?

In some government publications the term `infrastructure projects' is used only for significant new construction works, usually having a relatively large budget.

The Committee has taken a broader interpretation of the term to include any activity associated with infrastructure upkeep and upgrading. This includes crash investigations and analysis, asset management studies, strategies and action plans and all planning, construction and maintenance activities.

Furthermore, the Committee considered that the terms of reference did not require the identification of specific locations where various projects were required, or the type and cost of individual projects.

State Road Classification Definitions

Under the Australian Constitution, roads are the legal responsibility of States. Unless otherwise stated the Acts of Parliament mentioned in this Report are Victorian.

In Victoria, the Transport Act 1983 established the Roads Corporation (trading as VicRoads) as the State road agency, and defined the responsibilities of the Minister for Transport, VicRoads and municipalities in relation to roads. Municipalities are responsible for local roads under the Local Government Act 1989.

Roads can broadly be divided into those having an arterial function and those having a local access function.

In country Victoria arterial roads generally link regions, major activity centres and key towns. Key towns usually have a resident population greater than 500 people, and/or employment generators of more than 500 people.2

Arterial roads defined in the Transport Act 1983 include:

State Highways, the principal routes for the movement of people and goods between regions;

Freeways, high speed highways where access from adjacent properties and side roads is controlled;

Main Roads, the significant intra-regional roads for social and economic activity between key towns; and

Tourist and Forest Roads, providing access to areas of high tourist, recreational and timber extraction significance.

These form what is known as the declared or classified road system.

Roads that have not been declared by VicRoads as arterial roads are known as local or unclassified roads. They generally provide for local movement and access to properties, and are the responsibility of local government. 3

Conduct of the Inquiry

Submissions

Submissions were received from over 70 organisations and individuals in response to invitations and advertisements seeking submissions. Appendix A lists the organisations and individuals who made submissions.

Hearings

The Committee considered there was benefit in gathering the views of community representatives and subsequently embarked on an extensive round of discussions in rural Victoria holding 10 public hearings at which all rural municipalities except the Shire of Macedon Ranges were involved. The meetings were held at Warrnambool, Geelong, Wodonga, Shepparton, Ballarat, Swan Hill, Horsham, Bendigo and Sale.

To compare municipalities and obtain as much information as possible the Committee also travelled to New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. In New South Wales the Committee met with municipalities, the Roads and Traffic Authority and the STAYSAFE Committee - Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety. In the Australian Capital Territory the Committee met with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the Australian Local Government Association.

VicRoads, the Victoria Grants Commission, and the Municipal Association of Victoria provided evidence at public hearings in May and June 2001.

Appendix B lists the 157 witnesses who appeared before the Committee.

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